Naturi Naughton Is Glad "Queens" Is Giving Women in Hip-Hop Their Flowers
ABC's "Queens" ended its season finale with lots of unexpected surprises and a major cliffhanger. The final episode of season one, which aired on Feb. 15, marked the (virtual) return of Eve's character, Brianna, and set the queens - Naturi Naughton, Brandy, and Nadine Velazquez - up to head out on their own world tour. Though the series still hasn't been renewed for a second season, it's already covered lots of ground in reflecting the realities of the music industry.
"Queens" is one of the few network shows that's come along to honestly portray the obstacles and challenges of women in music. Naughton, who has firsthand experience in the industry, tells POPSUGAR that the show incorporates some her own accounts as a former member of 2000s girl group, 3LW. "I've talked about some of my woes in my former girl group, and when I got the job, [the writers] were like, 'You're kind of the only one that's actually lived this [experience],'" she explains. "So I think a lot of that got implemented into the stories . . . 'Queens' is not just a feel-good show. It's also a very relevant show of what's happening right now."
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"I was really attracted to the fact that this show was about women of color uplifting each other, coming together, and building each other back up again when the world has broken them down."
The 13-episode series explores a variety of touchy topics through its main characters and handful of guest stars. From the sexual assault incident that Remy Ma's Lady Z experiences with an industry exec to the conservatorship that's depicted by Elyse Bell's Madison Pierce, "Queens" gets real about what happens behind the scenes of the music business. But the series also prioritizes the close-knit relationships amongst women and the bonds we form in sisterhood.
"I was really attracted to the fact that this show was about women of color uplifting each other, coming together, and building each other back up again when the world has broken them down," Naughton says. "The whole theme of sisterhood is really attractive to me because a lot of times when we see four women of color on a show it can be catty or there's some negative energy and drama." Working alongside seasoned veterans like Eve and Brandy gave Naughton a sister circle off screen, and the actor is grateful that "Queens" has helped provide that kind of representation for other women to embrace in real life as well. "'Queens' is making, particularly women and Black women, feel like the queens that they are," she says. "I'm happy to be a part of that movement: the Queens movement."
For Naughton's character, Jill, her life has done a complete 180 on the show as a superstar-turned-housewife who discovers her true identity. Through Jill's journey - which includes going through a whirlwind divorce, embracing her sexuality, and standing up to her judgmental father - viewers have watched her transform into a confident 40-something-year-old woman who still has her battles, but finds solace in overcoming them. "I think Jill has had such a full journey and an amazing arc," Naughton remarks. "I always say that I'm really grateful for Jill and her journey because I think it shows other women that it's never too late and that being yourself is something you should never apologize for. I think that's one of the most powerful statements that this character makes: she's unapologetic. By the end of the season she's like, 'I am who I am. Get with it or don't. If you're down with it, that's fine. If you're not, cool, but I'm proud of myself for being me.'"
"I always say that I'm really grateful for Jill and her journey because I think it shows other women that it's never too late and that being yourself is something you should never apologize for."
Naughton understands the things her character goes through on the show, specifically as a music artist fighting to maintain their identity. "We're different, but I relate to Jill in the artist way," she says. "I always felt like I was told what to wear, how to dress, and how to talk when I was in a girl group because it was basically like the image that I had was put on me or given to me, and Jill felt that way a lot in the '90s . . . But over time, you're like, 'That's not really who I am. That's just what people expect me to be. And I think I've experienced that, especially now that I'm getting back to my own music . . . It's an opportunity to create my own image or my own sense of self, and that's a hard discovery. So I can relate because Jill had to go through some ups and downs, and I feel like I'm on the journey to find myself musically again, too."
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Beyond telling Jill's story, Naughton loved being able to balance the drama with the original music that's performed by the cast. And though the music plays to the background of what's happening in each episode, it's just as important as the dialogue written in the scripts. "We do music every week, but the music is almost like a story," Naughton says. "I always look at 'Queens' as a dope television musical play and you get a chance to tell stories to the music . . . We have fun musical moments where we're dancing and somebody might fall in a hole on stage, anything can happen on 'Queens.' And I think some of the joy of it is we make it entertaining, all while being serious."
If and when "Queens" is confirmed for another season, Naughton hopes to see the series explore the standards of beauty that women in the music industry are subjected to. "I'd like to explore maybe how we project, particularly in the urban community, what beauty is . . . There were certain girls in the '90s who you'd say [have] the exotic look, so she gets the part as the lead video girl and then you're just the background girl. So I think it's good to explore some of those issues that we know are there, but we just are afraid to talk about." We're crossing our fingers that we'll see the return of the queens sooner than later!